Hits and misses, does it really need to cost this much, the Wal-Mart effect, survey says, Senate hearing quotable, while they’re at it, checking in on Hollywood and Goldman too, spot on, and some refreshing words. It’s all here in the Friday roundup.
Hits and Misses
I read pretty much everything churned out by FCPA Inc., including the flood of recent client alerts concerning the Straub and Steffen decisions. (See here and here for previous posts summarizing the decisions). Many of these alerts are good and informative (for instance, see here from Debevoise & Plimpton). However, some of these alerts are just plain wrong.
The headline of one alert was “District Court Decision Limits the Extraterritorial Reach of the FCPA.” The headline of another alert was “Court Sets Limits on Extraterritorial FCPA Reach; Dismisses Case Against Foreign Siemens Executive.”
Neither the Straub nor Steffen decisions concerned extraterritorial application of the FCPA. In fact, there is no extraterritorial reach of the FCPA as to foreign actors. Yes, the FCPA was amended in 1998 to provide for alternative “nationality” jurisdiction (i.e. extraterritorial jurisdiction) over U.S. persons (both legal and natural), however, 78dd-1(g) and 78dd-2(i) are strictly limited to U.S. persons.
Rather, the Straub decision concerned the scope of territorial jurisdiction under 78dd-1(a), specifically the meaning of “use of the mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce …”.
The Steffen decision did not even reach this issue as the judge found the initial threshold issue of personal jurisdiction lacking.
Wal-Mart’s FCPA Scrutiny Expenses Mount
During the media feeding frenzy after the New York Times April 2012 Wal-Mart article (see here for the prior post), I had the pleasure to appear on Eliot Spitzer’s Viewpoint program on Current TV. At the end of the segment, after the substantive issues were discussed, Spitzer offered that he has several contacts in the FCPA bar and that, regardless of the substantive issues involved in Wal-Mart’s FCPA scrutiny or the ultimate outcome, lots of lawyers were poised to make lots of money.
Spitzer of course was right.
Wal-Mart recently stated (here) that it has incurred “$157 million of professional fees and expenses related to the ongoing” FCPA matter during its last fiscal year and that it expect to incur an additional ”$40 to $45 million for the first quarter of fiscal 2014.” During Wal-Mart’s recent earnings conference call, a company executive stated as follows. “On FCPA, we continue to work closely with anticorruption compliance experts to review and to assess our programs and help us implement concrete steps for each particular market. In the various markets, these experts have spent tens of thousands of hours on anti-corruption support and training. We remain committed to follow all laws and regulations in the markets where we operate.”
The $157 million Wal-Mart spent in the last FY equates to approximately $604,000 in professional fees and expenses per working day.
I observed in this March 2011 articles as follows.
“This new era of enforcement has resulted in wasteful overcompliance, companies viewing every foreign business partner with irrational suspicion, and companies deploying teams of lawyers and specialists around the world spending millions to uncover every potential questionable or unethical $100 corporate payment. This new era of enforcement has proven lucrative to many segments of the legal, accounting, and compliance industries and the status quo would, from their perspective, seem desirable.”
The question again ought to be asked – does it really need to cost this much or has FCPA scrutiny turned into a boondoggle for many involved? For more on this issue, see my article “Big, Bold, and Bizarre: The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Enters a New Era.”
While minor compared to Wal-Mart’s FCPA professional fees and expenses, Beam Inc. recently disclosed here that in 2012 the company spent approximately $4.2 million for “legal, forensic accounting, and other fees related to our internal investigation into Foreign Corrupt Practices Act compliance in our India operations.”
Switching gears, but sticking with Wal-Mart related issues, this May 2012 post highlighted a potential “Wal-Mart effect.” In short, the point was that Wal-Mart is clearly not the only company subject to the FCPA that needs licenses, permits and the like when doing business in Mexico. I predicted that Wal-Mart’s potential FCPA exposure would cause sleepless nights for many company executives doing business in Mexico and the general region. The post then discussed statements made during a Kimco Realty Corporation earnings call in May 2012 concerning its properties in Mexico.
Earlier this week, Kimco Realty stated in an SEC filing as follows.
“On January 28, 2013, the Company received a subpoena from the Enforcement Division of the SEC in connection with an investigation, In the Matter of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (FW-3678), that the SEC Staff is currently conducting with respect to possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The Company is responding to the subpoena and intends to cooperate fully with the SEC in this matter. The Company has also been notified that the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) is conducting a parallel investigation, and the Company expects that it will cooperate with the DOJ investigation. At this point, we are unable to predict the duration, scope or result of the SEC or DOJ investigation.”
The annual Litigation Trends and Survey report by Fulbright & Jaworski is always a good read. This year’s report (see here to download) surveyed 392 “senior corporate counsel” (275 in the U.S., 100 in the U.K. and 17 in other jurisdictions) on a wide-range of litigation and related matters. The following were FCPA or related survey results.
“Companies that have retained outside counsel to assist with a corruption or bribery investigation in the past 12 months (including, but not limited to, FCPA in U.S. and equivalent in U.K.”
- 9% of U.S. respondents answered “yes”; 18% of U.K. respondents answered “yes.” As noted, “U.S. figures [2010-2012] have remained relatively stable.”
“Companies that have engaged in due diligence for bribery or corruption (including FCPA matters) relating to a merger, acquisition or other business transactions with a foreign country in the past 12 months.”
- 18% of U.S. respondents answered “yes”; 26% of U.K. respondents answered “yes.” As noted, “more companies this year have engaged outside counsel in due diligence for corruption or bribery investigations due to business transactions with entities based in a foreign country.”
As to the due diligence figures, in the abstract these figures do not mean much, unless one knows how many responding companies actually engaged in foreign acquisitions or other business combinations.
The last survey result in the report perhaps speaks best to the over-hyped nature of the U.K. Bribery Act.
“Has your company changed the way it operates due to the emergence of anti-bribery legislation outside the U.S., such as U.K. Bribery Act 2010?”
- 78% of U.S. respondents answered “no” and 63% of U.K. respondents answered “no.”
Senate Hearing Quotable
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had some quotable moments (here) during a recent Senate Banking hearing. The hearing concerned financial regulation, not the FCPA. Nevertheless, some of the issues have some overlap to FCPA enforcement - including how settlement policies in regulatory enforcement actions create conditions in which there is “not much incentive to follow the law” and how “too big to fail” perhaps means “too big for trial.”
This recent Wall Street Journal CFO Journal post notes as follows.
“Securities and Exchange Commissioner Troy Paredes called for a complete review of the information companies disclose to investors, amid concerns that investors suffer from “disclosure overload” that could hamper their ability to gauge the importance of the data. “What we need is a top-to-bottom review of our disclosure regime,” Mr. Paredes said at the Practising Law Institute’s annual “SEC Speaks” conference in Washington, D.C. on Friday.”
While they’re at it, the SEC should take a look at its absurd position that all payments in violation of the FCPA, no matter how small the payment and no matter how large the company, are “qualitatively material.” For instance, as noted in this previous post concerning comments made by enforcement officials at a conference I chaired, an SEC official suggested that the concept of materiality itself has two “sub-concepts”: (i) quantitative materiality (something that impacts a company’s financial statements) and (ii) qualitative materiality. While conceding that very few improper payments are “quantitatively material” and while recognizing that “qualitative materiality” is a “complicated gray area,” the SEC officials nevertheless said that all bribes can be considered qualitatively material because they may “automatically trigger a books and records violation.” For formal SEC guidance on this issue, see here.
Hollywood Industry Sweep
From the New York Times regarding the on-going scrutiny of Hollywood movie studios in China.
“Last March, word reached several studios of a confidential inquiry by the Securities and Exchange Commissionand the Justice Department into possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by people or companies involved in the China film trade. Since then, executives and their advisers have been waiting for some public sign of the scope or focus of the government’s interest. So far, there has been none. But official silence has not kept the investigation from casting a chill over dealings between Hollywood and China.”
From the Wall Street Journal regarding the on-going scrutiny of Goldman’s dealings with Libya’s sovereign wealth fund.
“Libya’s sovereign-wealth fund said it is cooperating with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in its ongoing investigation into Goldman Sachs Group Inc. over the securities firm’s dealings with the fund when Col. Moammar Gadhafi was in power. [...] People close to the Libyan investment fund said officials have authorized some former fund executives to give testimony to the SEC. The officials also agreed to provide documents and other data to U.S. regulators about the fund’s ties to Goldman, these people said.”
Two recent Q&A’s on Law360 caught my eye. The question was “what is an important issue or case relevant to your practice area and why.”
Neil Eggleston (Kirkland & Ellis) stated as follows.
“We are beginning to see the development of case law in the FCPA area, which I believe is good for the process. Most of these cases have been settled. When that occurs, defendants have little incentive to refuse to agree to novel Department of Justice theories of prosecution or jurisdiction, so long as the penalty is acceptable. The department then cites its prior settlement as precedent when settling later ones. But no court approved the earlier settlement, and the prior settlement should have no precedential value in favor of the DOJ in later settlements. As the DOJ increases its prosecution of individuals, we will see many more trials, which will give rise to courts, not the DOJ, interpreting the statute.”
Richard Marmaro (Skadden) answered the same question as follows.
“An issue of importance in the white collar area is the issue of prosecutorial misconduct, and appropriate remedies for prosecutors who intentionally conceal evidence, intimidate witnesses, or otherwise compromise or impact a defendant’s right to a fair trial. I have seen firsthand in several of my cases shocking misconduct, which has gone undisciplined by the U.S. Department of Justice. I have been fortunate enough to expose this misconduct, and have had cases dismissed as a result. Indeed, over the last decade, there have been several dismissals nationwide at trial or reversals on appeal based on willful misconduct by government lawyers. Despite these judicial findings, however, the Justice Department’s record of disciplining misbehaving prosecutors is shockingly inadequate. I don’t know of any prosecutor that has been terminated based on a judicial finding of intentional misconduct. In addition, I believe that only two prosecutors have received any discipline at all (both in the Stevens case). In my view, the failure to sanction prosecutors who have been found by judges to have committed misconduct sends the wrong signal to defendants, the public and the vast majority of prosecutors who do their jobs honestly every day.”
For more, see this previous post titled ”Should There Be A Difference?”
Every now and then it is refreshing to read some common sense words about FCPA compliance and risk assessment. Such as this recent post from the Trace blog.
“Remember, perfection is neither possible nor necessary. When devising a compliance plan, it’s important to remind oneself of the big picture. A company need not break the bank to have a compliance program that follows accepted best practices. As discussed below, there are various ways that good compliance can be affordable. And companies are not responsible for developing full-proof compliance programs; they only need to develop programs proportionate to the risk they face, with the understanding that no program will completely eliminate all risk from the equation. Unlike in other areas of business, when it comes to compliance, being in the middle of the pack is okay.”
A good weekend to all.